Shiralkar: Virus transmission for dummies

Columnist Parth Shiralkar expresses his disappointment in the student body’s behavior in regards to 801 day.

Parth Shiralkar

For a while now, it has been a half-hearted endeavor of mine — as a purely academic exercise — to try and figure out the simplest way to effectively predict a slow but steady return of the student body to their homes as the school transitions to a fully online course load. What will be the first domino to fall, and which naturally occurring phenomena will fall into place, bit by bit, one by pitiful one, till we go entirely virtual? I realize now that I have been overlooking a wild card, a piece of the puzzle hidden in plain sight.

A significant day at Iowa State is “801 day,” celebrated on the Saturday before classes begin. It’s supposedly a celebration of finally being allowed to drink after an agonizing wait as a fresh recruit into Greek life. But it does not stop there; students from all walks and runs of life engage in this tradition, not just fraternities and sororities. At 8:01 am on this day, one starts drinking with no deadline in sight. This, of course, is a delightful respite from the daily drudgery that is to come in the following weeks, and many students forego their inhibitions in one of the liveliest darties of the year.

This year is — obviously and painfully — different. In addition to the looming danger of otherwise-transmitted diseases with an excited youthful crowd involved, there’s the pandemic to worry about. There was hopeful chatter on some of the online forums, with some optimistic users claiming that 801 this year would be a subdued event, with perhaps a few lawn parties here and there, close friends only. But alas, at the stroke of 8 a.m. on Saturday, these users would be in for a shock. Et voilà, the wildcard.

It requires a certain depth of understanding and a modicum of empathy to display restraint in these cases. I partook in 801 day last year, a day etched into my memory as a vague mishmash of fuzzy visuals of the sun, people laughing and peculiar fluids flying about.

It is indeed a day to revel and frolic, as they say. But when pictures and videos of hordes of students strolling across Welch Avenue and some of the more densely populated residential areas began to pop up on social media this Saturday, there was a silent uproar from those not partying; suddenly, there seemed to be several underground betting arenas dedicated to predicting the last day of in-person school this fall.

I spent the day helping a couple of my friends move in, all masked and sweaty and frowny and critical, and it allowed me a front-seat view of this whole thing going down. I won’t bother to place a judgment call on this situation now because, like I said earlier, it requires at least a bit of empathy to show restraint in the face of peer pressure. The absolutely Augean chore of restricting your exposure to the virus by gathering to party in very, very small groups — if at all — has yet again proven to be firmly herculean.

The blame lies not entirely with this stupid cross-section of the student body, however. With no mask mandate in place, I’d venture that the raging hormones of these youthful party-goers allow for no thought of personal safety. Which I get, honestly. But to allow some of the most intense hotspots in the area to stay open while not using the immense resources at hand to regulate social gatherings (read: as opposed to peaceful protests) is just terrible oversight on the government’s part. Regardless, akin to how I began it, I’ll end this column on a dispassionate note. Wash your hands and stay safe.